Many of us love the granola that we buy in the healthy aisle at the supermarket. Many also reach for healthy “whole grain” bread. And while we’re shopping we just grab a bottle of ready-made pasta sauce, just in case, we’re in a rush. Which we know is always the case. Many also use honey like it is the healthiest sweetener in the world, and thus has no limits.
Sugar comes in many different forms and names, and it most probably will be present in the majority of items you’ve just shopped- whether it was in the healthy aisle or not.
In this blog post, we aim to uncover everything regarding sugar, including how to spot it in the supermarket.
What exactly is sugar?
When you think about sugar, you’re probably thinking of “table sugar,” the type added to your coffee or tea or the sweet stuff in your cake.
But we’re here to uncover that there are several types of sugar, and they all have different effects on your body.
The scientific name for table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide. Disaccharide means it is made of two simple sugars: glucose and fructose.
When you eat sucrose, the glucose goes directly into your bloodstream to be used for energy. You see this as an increase in your blood sugar. Alternatively, it can be stored in your muscles or as fat.
Before fructose can be used as energy, it passes through your liver. In your liver, it is turned into glucose and fat. It also raises blood sugar levels more gradually (less spikey) than glucose.
Does this mean you should stop eating fruits?
In one word no.
Firstly, there’s much less fructose in fresh fruit than in many processed foods and drinks. While a can of soda could contain around 40 grams or more of fructose, an apple only has around 6 g of fructose per every 100 g of apple.
Another important factor is how the different compounds in food interact. For instance, the fructose in your soda is free sugar, so it’s absorbed into your blood very fast. But when you eat an apple, your body has to break down the cells to get to the sugar. The fiber in an apple slows your digestion, so the fructose is released much more slowly.
This brings us to the tip of considering the source of sugar.
Consider your sources of sugar
The source of the sugar you consume is crucial to know how it will impact your health. As we mentioned above some sugars are naturally occurring, such as in fruits, or also dairy products. Some sugars have been removed from their original sources and added to food products to improve sweetness, such as sugar in your soda.
Naturally occurring sugars
Naturally occurring sugars can be found in fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and even nuts. Eating food that has naturally occurring sugar is alright as they contain other nutrients. For example, plant foods have high amounts of fiber, minerals, and antioxidants while dairy food contains calcium and protein.
When consuming these foods, your body digests them slowly and the supply of energy becomes steady. They are a big part of leading a healthy lifestyle and studies even show that a high intake in vegetables, whole grains and fruits can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as some cancers, diabetes and heart diseases.
Free sugar or added sugar
Free sugar or added sugar, is however the refined sugar that is added to food. This is the type of sugar you want to avoid.
Sugars are not only added to foods that are obviously sweet like sodas, ice cream or candy. Check the label of your favorite sauces or frozen foods. You wouldn’t also necessarily expect that they contain sugar.
It’s a smart idea to check the ingredient list carefully to look for hidden sugars when buying processed foods. Keep in mind that sugar can be listed by over 50 different names.
The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods.
The biggest culprits of added sugar are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, pastries, candy and almost all processed foods.
Why is sugar bad for your health?
Let’s be clear, not all sugar is not inherently bad for you. Some sugar is actually necessary to provide energy. The problem is added sugars. They are usually composed of a simple chemical structure of one (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide) kinds of sugars and therefore contain zero other nutrients.
The simple chemical structure of sugar makes it an “empty” calorie. Meaning it is digested quickly, gives you a quick burst of energy, spikes your blood glucose, but without any nutritional benefits.
The energy boost will not last either. It will leave you feeling drowsy, unfocused and easily distracted. Research shows that there is a clear link between refined sugar consumption and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Frequent consumption of added sugar also increases your hunger, causing you to eat more than you’d need.
A high intake of added sugar can:
- Increase the risk of being overweight, obesity and fatty liver.
- Increases risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
- Increases risk of different types of cancer.
- Increases risk of dental caries.
In the short term, you will risk gaining weight and feeling unfocused. A high sugar intake also affects your glucose metabolism and causes high blood glucose. This then also affects your sleep and weight.
In the long term, consuming an excessive amount of added sugar can lead to type-2 diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, certain cancers, and cardiovascular diseases, and even potentially addictive.
Added sugar raises your blood pressure and leads to increased risk of chronic inflammation, both of which are paths to attaining heart diseases.
A 15-year study showed that people who consume 17-21% of their total calories intake from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from a heart disease in comparison to those who intake 8% of their calories from added sugar.
Another frightening fact is that studies have shown that a long-term sugar diet can diminish your brain’s ability to take in new information and memorize it.
Added sugar and all it’s different names
Added sugar is super hard to avoid. It may appear even in your healthy food choices. Beware of it next time you dine out or go to the supermarket. Check the food label, and you will notice some kind of sugar in soups, salad dressings, cured meats, whole grain bread, dark chocolate and in the “healthy” kombuchas where sugar was added after the fermentation to improve the taste.
The further up an ingredient is listed in the ingredients list, the more of it is in the product. Ingredients used in the greatest amounts are listed first.
In Europe, it might be hard to identify the amount of added sugar on the nutrition label. This is because manufacturers are only obliged to declare the total sugar amount, “of which sugar”, under the carbohydrate (grams of sugar per 100 grams of the product) index. This means that the naturally occurring and added sugars are mixed together making it difficult to spot added sugars.
Can you believe the sugar-free claims on products?
Under the European Union regulation, sugar-free claims may only be used when:
- When a product contains no more than 0,5 grams of sugar per 100 grams/100 ml.
- When no monosaccharides or disaccharides have been added.
- When no other food has been used for its sweetening properties.
If there are naturally occurring sugars in the product, then the product will also have the label: “Contains naturally occurring sugars”.
Food additives, sugar substitutes, artificial sweeteners
By now you may notice that sugar is not always easy to detect in your foods and drinks. To make matters even more complicated, added sugars and artificial sweeteners may be labeled as “E-number”.
For example, stevia is E 960a.
There are also sugar substitutes that contain no sugar, and have few or zero calories. Foods that are labeled “sugar-free”, “low carb”, or “diet” usually contain these. These substances are created in labs and are without beneficial nutrients. Some experts believe they can be dangerous and potentially impact your glucose levels as well. But is sugar actually always an enemy? Is there a way to consume sugar in a healthy and responsible way?
How much sugar can we eat?
Nutrition experts, and health organizations recommend limiting the sugar intake to less than 10% of the daily recommended energy intake. Assuming an average energy need of 2000kcal the 10% daily intake is equivalent to about 50 grams of sugar, which is approximately 4 tablespoons. A Coca Cola Original 330 ml can contains around 35gram of added sugar.
However, most Germans consume way more than this, especially in the form of soft drinks and fruit juices. Studies suggest that high sugar consumption is the result of the hidden added sugars in food, as we mentioned already earlier.
How our sugar consumption affects our society and economy
Sugar has increased sharply in the last 50 years. This has proven to have serious consequences on people’s health. Many people get as much as 500 kcal a day from sugars. On average, the sugar amount Germans eat equals 28,5 sugar cubes per day. If these 28,5 sugar cubes are not burnt properly, it will turn into around 17,8 kg of excess body fat. So a high sugar intake can lead to taking in more calories than your body needs, which can contribute to overweight or obesity. In Germany, 67% of men and 53% of women are overweight. 23% of men and 24% of women are obese, meaning seriously overweight.
Obesity is the epidemic of the 21st century
Obesity is a serious condition with social and psychological aspects that affect people of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and all over the world. Although more men are overweight, more women are obese. No matter if overweight or obese, both come with a high change of other serious diet-related diseases.
Comparing the negative effects of sugar on society with the costs and damages of diseases related to diets high in sugar, they are similar to deaths caused by driving under influence and smoking. In Germany, the direct cost of diseases related to high and frequent added sugar consumption is estimated to be over 8,5 billion euros in 2013.
Why do we consume so much sugar? How is the food industry involved?
Food politics is arguably a major factor for the increase of sugar consumption worldwide. You all may have noticed how companies address children in marketing fast-food and soft drinks .One of the biggest misinformation is that exercise removes all negative effects of your diet.
The fact is that the food industry has managed to lure added sugar onto your plates in many different ways. More than 70% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets have added sugar in them. This once again means that it’s not only the sweet products, but also the savory products like bread, pasta and sauces that include them. As we mentioned earlier, they come in many different names. More than 50 names to be exact.
What can I do to avoid consuming too much sugar?
So how do we say no to sugar?
We understand that it’s not easy. Especially because sugar activates the reward system in your brain. Addictive substances tend to activate those receptors as well. That’s how addiction happens.
However, becoming aware and making smart choices can be the key. Being mindful and aware of the products you buy and always checking the ingredients, is one of the most important changes you can make.
At Hello Inside it is our goal to make your lifestyle decisions easier. With our app you will see how the foods you eat impact your blood glucose. We’re pretty confident that there will be surprising foods that will cause your blood sugar to rise.
We at, Hello Inside have created the 2 weeks Hello Sugar Program to educate you about sugar and your blood glucose levels. The program will uncover the different names of sugar, show you how to read food labels, and what sugar does to your body and every day health. It also includes tips and tricks that you can apply easily to manage your sugar consumption.
We don’t say that you have to avoid sugar completely, because that seems like an unattainable goal. But we want you to become aware and make smarter lifestyle and food choices.
The key problems the Hello Sugar Program addresses are:
- Lack of energy & focus,
- Weight management.
As a sneak peak to our program we’ll already share 3 tips to help you reduce your daily sugar intake
- Read the labels on the products you buy, and be aware of what you eat.
- Applying the 80:20 rule to your food and drink choices is a great way to reduce your sugar intake without feeling deprived→ By that we mean that you should eat “healthy” 80% of the time and the remaining 20% are for you to mindfully enjoy the treats.
- Understand what your body really needs and to make smart food and lifestyle choices. This is where Hello Inside comes in handy, as it helps you to navigate this journey.The app gives you insights to your personal reaction to food, especially via the Hello Sugar Program.
We can agree that sugar is a complex and challenging topic. Even if sugar has a crucial impact on your health and society, sugar is not the enemy per se. Being aware of the sugar impact on your body and making smart lifestyle and food decisions is a great step towards an improved well-being. Get to know your body like no one else and find your sweet spot with the Hello Sugar Program from Hello Inside.
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